The Servant of Slaves:
Mary Slessor was called the servant of slaves, a saint who was not celebrated. Her deed, faith, devotion, and dedication were translated into practical demonstration; these were the attributes professed by all religions. An intellectual dissection of Slessor’s mission to Africa could be summarized in these three phrases: Service to Others; Others Above Self and Trust in God.
Mary’s story started in Aberdeen Scotland where she was born in 1848 and later recruited as a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of Scotland to serve in Africa. In 1876 she sailed to Calabar with a steamship The SS Ethiopia into the unknown where no European has set foot before, the land of Calabar. According to an early description of Calabar by the Europeans, it was a head hunting tribe, superstitious to the extreme, living in squalor and violence. It was a savage land! With all these insinuations and conjectures she stood her ground and made a life changing decision.
She could be said to be one of the very few missionaries in the mould of David Livingstone who truly came to Africa with a deep mission to do God’s work and sacrificed her life to change humanity. Mary was a heroine of the eighteenth century and one of the greatest achievers of our time.
Ironically, the people that benefited from her benevolence, in today’s South East/South South Nigeria, have forgotten her legacy and jettisoned the values of her spiritual movement which were Loving and Caring for the less privileged.
Ancient African history is replete with stories of our forebears’ gross human right abuses which were characterised with the practice of voodoo, human sacrifices, and spiritualism. This probably could be the source of the early British perception of the final destination of Mary. It is also apt to add that this practice has a great effect on the economy and political whims of the society. In addition, Mary came into a society where been a man and a free born is a privileged social status. A position endorsed by the government of the day, the Ekpe Society and engraved in the traditional constitution.
Then it was abominable for a twin born; husbands were terrified during childbirth and should the birth go that way, the consequences were severe. The man would be exempted from religious functions because he would be seen as unclean, a stigma he lives with all through his life. Some victims were reported to have taken their own lives out of frustration and shame. Mazi Okoro P. Kanu wrote in his book; Pre- British Aro of Arochukw, that ‘twins were instantly put to death, until the British missionary influence the practice. Fathers of twins have to undergo ritual cleansing as prescribed by custom, to be accepted by society …..the practice in the traditional system has been to exclude twins and their parents from entering places regarded as sacred.’
Slessor was actually caught up in a very hostile environment where the Colonial administrators had no influence on the traditional ways of the people. However, she introduced the teachings of the bible and demonstrated the practice of love as preached by our Lord and encouraged the locals to live in peace with one another. She also developed their psychic to ignore the inducement by the superstitious believe pronounced by their traditional medicine men. She made it bold that no one is inferior or superior to another. According to her, men and women; slaves and masters; kings and servants are equal before the presence of God. This wake-up call and sudden realization transformed her home into a place of refuge for runaway slaves, twins and their parents. She dared the native gods and went against the traditional laws which were fashioned out to appease the gods. These unthinkable acts; standing against the decrees of the native gods almost put her to death. But she escaped the wraths of the traditional chiefs in many instances, an act seen by indigenes as supernatural and perhaps the magic of her God. This eventually won many natives to her church.
To stop the killing of twins without the blast of a gun should be seen as one of the greatest achievement the feminine gender has contributed to humanity. We must remember that scores of wars were fought to stop slave trade which still exists in some parts today but Mary used the power of Love, Faith, and Resilience to change man’s inhumanity to man.